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After the Pax Americana

Three factions vie for influence and dominance in the Middle East.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

November 9, 2013 - 12:21 am
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A report this week in the pro-Hizballah newspaper Al-Akhbar claimed that the Turks have expelled a number of Saudi intelligence officers from their soil, because of disputes between the two countries over policy toward Syria and Egypt.

Whatever the veracity of the report (Al-Akhbar can have a vivid imagination), a quote in the article from an un-named Turkish source succeeds in pointing  out pithily and concisely the current core strategic dynamic in the Middle East.

The quote is “Turkish officials believe Saudi Arabia, along with Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, are strategically working against the interests of two different regional blocs: Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and Iraq on one front, and Turkey, Qatar, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other.”

If Turkish officials do indeed believe this, then they have it right.  There are today three discernible de facto alliances operating in the Middle East. Interestingly, for the first time in half a century, none of the major blocs engaged are clearly aligned with the U.S. and the West.

Let’s look at these three blocs in a little more detail.

The first, Iranian-led bloc, including Assad in Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon, is the most familiar.  The Iranian ambition, clearly stated, is to replace the U.S. as the dominant power in the energy-rich Gulf area, to build a contiguous alliance of pro-Iranian states stretching from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and into the Levant, and thus to emerge as the strongest force in the Middle East.  It is committed to acquiring a nuclear capability to underwrite and insure this process against action to prevent it.

Iran’s Shia nature means that  this bloc has a legitimacy gap outside of the minority Shia Arab populations which is probably insurmountable.  Because of ideological conviction and also to bridge this gap, Iran noisily proclaims itself for the destruction of Israel.  It believes sincerely in this, but it also hopes to woo the Sunni Arab masses through this appeal to an objective also dear to their hearts.

The second bloc noted by the “Turkish officials” is that of “Turkey, Qatar, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.”  This is the Sunni Islamist alignment that a year ago looked to be on the march across the region, as a result of the popular uprisings once misleadingly called the “Arab Spring.”

But 2013 has been a terrible year for the Muslim Brothers.  They have lost power in Egypt and in Tunisia.  A new emir in Qatar appears to prefer a more modest regional stance.  And in Syria, al-Qaeda and Salafi-oriented units now form the most active pillar in a confused insurgency which shows signs of turning in on itself.

The eclipse of this bloc in turn draws attention to the third alliance mentioned in the quote. This is the bloc consisting of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries excluding Qatar.  It is the bloc of the conservative Sunni Arab monarchies.

The monarchies survived intact the recent wave of popular agitation in the Arab world, which instead took its toll on the “secular,” military regimes.

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Top Rated Comments   
Excellent, clear-eyed piece. Thanks
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings:

One of the most prominent influences on my thinking about the Middle East is Fouad Ajami's assessment that those are the lands of "I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger."

Islam is the millstone and until all those brothers and cousins figure that out, the Arabs will continue shifting their political sands much like the 7th Century (A.D. if I may) Arab culture that old Mohammed's wit and wisdom globalized under a very thin veneer of religion.

Again, Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn't include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam you don't have a plan. What you have is a hope, a 1400 year old hope.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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Jonathan, these tangled alliances are reminiscent of Europe before WWI. Do you think that the Middle East is also building up towards a cataclysmic regional war? Or will it be more like a regional Cold War in which the major powers fight each other through proxies but avoid direct confrontation?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's a shame that the socialist government of France shows more spine than our big sissy Obama. President Pissypants Peacock needs to grow a set.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
We are not yet "post-Pax Americana"
In 2016, we will reassert appropriate defense of freedoms -- of the seas, of international borders, of respect for others.
There is no other fit to fill the role of "world's grown-up," much less able to challenge us for it.
As for the rogues, remember we hang "hostis humani generis."
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
As long as the Kremlin receives respect from Christians in the Middle East (and elsewhere) because they demonstrate more willingness than Obama, in protecting the interests of Christians - they will have a role.

I wouldn't rule out the Commonwealth playing a role, because what is Israel was in the Commonwealth, and Cyprus is still in the Commonwealth (even though the Kremlin would like for Cyprus to be a client state.).
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Christians? What Christians? You mean this tiny fraction in Lebanon?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent, clear-eyed piece. Thanks
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings:

One of the most prominent influences on my thinking about the Middle East is Fouad Ajami's assessment that those are the lands of "I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger."

Islam is the millstone and until all those brothers and cousins figure that out, the Arabs will continue shifting their political sands much like the 7th Century (A.D. if I may) Arab culture that old Mohammed's wit and wisdom globalized under a very thin veneer of religion.

Again, Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn't include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam you don't have a plan. What you have is a hope, a 1400 year old hope.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hint: Turkey and Iran are not Arab. Kurds are not Arab.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings, meso:

I agree with your assertion. It's why I find the "globalization" aspect of Islam of such importance. They've all been drinking from the same poisoned well for a millennium or so, so in spite of some ethnic awareness and appearances, there is an underlying thought predomination in a lay down with dogs, get up with fleas kind of way. Somedays you're a brother, somedays a cousin, and somedays you're a stranger.

My father used to tell me that there are two basic aspects to human beings, biology and culture. He also used to say that your culture was the behavior you find acceptable. Similarly, Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations..." provides an interesting analysis of how culture evolves into "civilizations".
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agree 100% Islam has to go.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
The most clear eyed analysis I've read. I have seen the Saudi's recent antics without fully understanding the context. I have no illusions about the current US/European narrative of making a deal with Iran. It looks to me like it is only a narrative that nowhere intersects with reality except in the press. The three cornered rivalry you describe will become the basis for watching the Mid East going forward.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
@KellyStaples

The Middle East is a competing petro-producer populated by moslems;
Why would Russia not want to cause the region to self-destruct, with
the elimination of Israel as a bonus ?
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
A cogent analysis, but where does Russia fit into the mix? They understand hard power as well as any one on the planet, and the thought of the fanatics in Tehran with apocalyptic weapons can't be reassuring.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Russians built the facilities which are enabling the Iranians to enrich uranium in the first place, so they don't seem to be concerned about the fallout.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Because, if "the fanatics in Tehran with apocalyptic weapons" turn them on the Russians, they are sure that the Russians will squash them like a bug.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
And you won't have much sympathy, beyond the usual suspects, for the fanatics in Teheran, by those outside of Russia & the Middle East.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
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